The Note 8 is possibly the classiest-looking phone we've ever clapped eyes on, and our Midnight Black review sample is stunning. But the majority of its surface is glass, and that is a worry.
Though it features Gorilla Glass 5 protection front and back, which is Corning's toughest yet, it is not infallible.
iFixit has taken apart the Galaxy Note 8 (as shown in the video below) and found it will be difficult to repair given that all access is through the glass rear, so to replace the screen you would have to remove both pieces of glass. It gave the Note 8 a repairability score of just 4/10.
So, this is one smartphone you will want to do your best to look after and keep it safe (we've rounded up some cases you might like).
The Galaxy Note 8 is also waterproof, rated IP68. That means it can survive in up to 1.5m of water for up to 30 minutes, and is also dustproof. Should you want to take it swimming you can, but more than anything it serves as peace of mind - a phone of this size could easily slip out of your pocket and into somewhere you'd rather it hadn't.
The other concern you might have regards the battery, following the misfortune of the explosive Note 7. But the battery used here has gone through significant testing to ensure it's up to scratch, and Samsung has also adjusted the Note 8's design to help ensure things don't get too hot.
The frame is 0.7mm thicker than it was on the Note 7 - which in smartphone terms is actually rather a lot - and the battery's capacity has been reduced from 3,500mAh to 3,300mAh. That means it is lower in capacity than the 3,500mAh Galaxy S8+, but it's unlikely that the 200mAh loss will make a huge difference to battery life, especially when you also factor in the savings afforded by the new 10nm processor.
We've not spent enough time with the Note 8 yet to accurately assess its battery life, though it should get you through a full day with moderate- to heavy use.
As previously the battery supports fast wired- and wireless charging, though a wireless charging pad is not supplied. There are some nice touches in the box, though, including a Micro-USB to USB-C adaptor, an OTG adaptor, some spare S Pen nibs, and some AKG-branded earbuds. (You'll be pleased to know the Note 8 retains the 3.5mm headphone jack.)
We were impressed with not only how loud the Note 8's speaker could go, but also how little it was distorted at maximum volume. It handled lows, mids and highs admirably in our testing, with clear vocals and promising bass.
The speaker pumps out audio from the bottom edge of the handset, but given the Note 8's height it's unlikely that this will be in any way obscured by the palm of your hand.
Core Hardware and Performance
Samsung’s new Note flagship traditionally arrives with enough power to blow all other contenders out the water. But in 2017 phones are already insanely fast, and the market is no longer the drag race it once was. While the Note 8 is a very strong addition to a competitive playing field, it outpaces all onlookers in only one of our benchmarks: Geekbench 4 multi-core.
This is likely down to its inclusion of 6GB of LPDDR4 RAM, because in other respects performance is very much on par with the 4GB RAM Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8+. These phones use the same processor as the Note 8 - in the UK you’ll get the octa-core Exynos 8895 with integrated ARM Mali-G71 GPU but in other areas Samsung specifies the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835, the same chip that has featured in multiple 2017 flagships.
Both are 10nm chips, which promise large performance and efficiency gains over last year’s 14nm chips - as much as a 30 percent increase in efficiency, 27 percent increase in performance, and 40 percent decrease in power consumption. These figures suggest you needn’t be overly concerned by the decrease in battery capacity from 3,500mAh to 3,300mAh.
In specification it’s perhaps closest to the 6GB OnePlus 5, which uses the Snapdragon 835 chip. In our tests it outperformed the OP5 in Geekbench 4, which looks at sheer processing power, but in the benchmarks that include graphics components the OP5 took the lead. This is likely because of the Note 8’s larger screen - and the fact we use the onscreen variants of GFXBench tests.
The Note 8 has plenty of storage for all your files, with 64GB internal as standard and expansion up to 256GB posible via microSD. That’s before you take into account any cloud storage - the Note 8 comes with OneDrive and Google Drive preinstalled.
Connectivity wise all the bases are covered with dual-band 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 5.0, Cat 16 4G LTE, NFC, GPS and GLONASS, OTG and USB-C. There’s also the aforementioned heart-rate scanner, fingerprint scanner and iris scanner.
DeX support means the Note 8 is compatible with the DeX docking station (an optional extra), allowing you to use it like a PC with a monitor, keyboard and mouse. The DeX adds two USB ports, ethernet, HDMI and a cooling fan.
One of the key new features in the Note 8 is its dual-camera. This is the first Samsung flagship to feature such a setup, and it’s also the first dual-camera to feature 2x optical image stabilisation on each lens.
Whereas the Note 7 had one 12Mp f/1.7 ‘Dual-Pixel’ wide-angle camera at the rear, the Note 8 adds a second 12Mp f/2.4 telephoto lens. You can use the new pairing to play around with the bokeh effect (in essence blurring the background and thereby focusing in on the subject), or to simply capture two images at once with Dual Capture - one close-up, the other not so much.
The Camera app is therefore a little different to what you get on the Galaxy S8, now showing options for Bixby Vision, Live Focus and Stickers directly below the composition window.
Take a photo with Bixby Vision and it can serve up information about the product or place in view. Samsung says it can find products online, search for similar images, show notable locations nearby, translate text, read QR codes and more.
We pointed the camera at a bottle of Evian, for example, and it was able to show us photos of other bottles of water when we selected Images. However, when we selected Shopping it offered us links to some Wahl clippers, a set of fabric marker pens, some chrome and silver wallpaper, and a Brabantia Food Warmer, all of which we’re sure you will agree are a bit random.
Live Focus requires you to stand at least 1.2m from your subject, and you can adjust the effect using a slider. You can see our test image here focusing on a Coke can.
Stickers is also present in the Galaxy S8, but less obvious. It’s a bit like adding Snapchat live filters to your selfies, except they aren’t as good. Some people will appreciate the addition of the feature, though we can’t say it’s something we would use - they just don’t work as seamlessly as they do on Snapchat.
Above the composition window you have options to toggle on Dual Capture and Full-screen Capture (18.5:9 rather than the Note 8’s default 4:3). Be warned that the camera will not shoot at the maximum resolution in Full-screen Capture mode, limiting your snaps to 7.9Mp.
This is the same for video, which is captured at 2224x1080 pixels in this mode. By default video is shot in full-HD (1920x1080), but you can alternatively configure UHD (3840x2160), QHD (2560x1440) and full-HD at 60fps. The selfie camera maxes out on video at QHD. Video stabilisation is available for all modes except 1:1 and VGA.
In this same top line is an icon for switching to the selfie camera, which is also achieved buy flicking up from the bottom of the screen, and an option to access the Settings menu. It’s here that you can alter the HDR settings - auto by default, on all three cameras, but it can also be set to off or on.
Other shooting modes are accessible by swiping in from the left side of the screen. Samsung offers Auto, Pro, Panorama, Slow motion, Hyperlapse, Food, Virtual shot and an option to download more. Real-time filters sweep in from the right side of the display.
It’s worth pointing out that the majority of these features are also available to the front-facing camera, which is an 8Mp f/1.7 model - exactly the same as what you get in the Galaxy S8, though an upgrade over the Note 7. It additionally features a display flash and a face beauty mode.
So the app itself is pretty good, but what of the pictures it captures? The Note 8, in our experience, has a smashing camera.
In our test shots of St Pancras from our seventh-floor roof terrace the Note 8 managed to capture every little detail, right down to the individual bricks and street names at ground level. Colours are natural and true to live, and there’s no evidence of blurring even at the extreme edges of the image.
In low light the Note 8 also did a great job of picking out the details on our scene of random objects. The various shades of black and grey on our digger were clearly defined, the text on the bottle label easily readable, and colours again very true to life.
Running TouchWiz on Android 7.1.1 Nougat (with Oreo coming soon) the Note 8 has almost exactly the same software setup as the Galaxy S8, with the addition of some S Pen features. The difference here is the larger screen makes features such as Multi Window - whereby you can use two apps onscreen at once - much more useful.
App Pairs is a helpful addition and an extension of Multi Window, allowing you to display two apps on the screen at the same time, but by tapping a single icon.
A new feature introduced in December is Secure Wi-Fi. In essence Samsung has added a VPN to the Galaxy Note 8 in order to set up encrypted connections that don't give away the user's IP address. VPNs are also attractive to those who want to fool a service (in particular streaming services) into thinking they are in a different country. You get just 250MB free with Samsung's service, however, so if this isn't enough also see our guide to the best VPNs for Android.
All the usual Samsung features are present, including: Smart Stay, which keeps the screen switched on while you're looking at it; One-handed mode, which reduces the size of the display to make use in one hand easier; fingerprint sensor gestures; the ability to quick launch the camera with a double-tap of the home button; Smart capture, which offers additional options such as crop and extended capture after taking a screenshot; Easy mode; and Dual Messenger, which lets you use two accounts on apps such as Facebook.
Microsoft apps for Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneDrive are preinstalled, along with various Google apps and some Samsung utilities. There's a Themes app and a dedicated Samsung Apps store, for instance.
Perhaps the most interesting of all, though, is Bixby. Samsung's own voice assistant was introduced with the Galaxy S8, although it wasn't until the day before the Note 8 announcement that an English version of Bixby Voice became available. So it feels much more like a new Note 8 feature than a Galaxy S8 one.
We had feared Bixby would be an unnecessary extra feature, given that the Note 8 also supports the Google Assistant, but it is arguably easier to invoke with the press of a dedicated button rather than having to say "Okay Google." Unfortunately we have found that button rather annoying, since we're often accidentally pressing it and calling up Bixby when we don't want to. (See how to turn off Bixby Home.)
Bixby is capable of handling more than 3,000 commands, which include things like setting reminders, sending text messages and initiating video calls, showing you the weather and playing videos. It is also integrated with the phone's settings so you can turn on larger font size or a mobile hotspot, or bring up data from the heart-rate scanner, for instance.
In our brief experience with Bixby it seems to be much like the Google Assistant or Siri, and is happy to answer random questions and offer up funny responses. It understands natural language as well as those services do, and arguably better than Alexa. It doesn't have Alexa's Skills, of course, but Bixby does tie into all Samsung's services and devices such as TVs.
And as we mentioned in the photography section, as well as accepting a vocal- or text command Samsung’s assistant differs from Google Assistant in that it can also accept image input from the camera or gallery through Bixby Vision.
Samsung Galaxy Note 8: Specs
- Android 7.1 Nougat
- 6.3in Quad HD display (2960x1440), 521ppi
- Dual curved edge Infinity Display
- Exynos 8895 octa-core processor (Snapdragon 835 in some markets)
- 6GB RAM
- 64GB internal storage
- Micro-SD card slot (up to 256GB)
- Dual 12Mp rear-facing cameras with OIS
- 8Mp front camera
- Pressure sensitive home button
- Fingerprint scanner
- Iris scanner
- Heart rate monitor
- 11ac dual-band Wi-Fi
- Bluetooth 5.0
- 4G LTE Cat 16
- Headphone jack
- 3300mAh non-removable battery
- Wireless charging
- IP68 dust & waterproof rating